Category Archives: Politics

John Rabe: A movie

I use to work in the medical field in China and Japan and my first foreign language was German. I am now refreshing my German for a month trip this summer to German with my son. Thus, the 2009 film “John Rabe” was at treat for me. Not only was it another film with a great redemptive theme, but I also got to listen to Chinese, German and Japanese in the same film.

More than this, the film taught me a part of the 1937 history of the rape of Nanjing that I never knew. In the 1980s I had many conversations with older Japanese business men who swore that the Nanjing massacre was a total myth. This continues: in May 1994, the Japanese Justice Minister, Shigeto Nagano, called the Nanjing Massacre a “fabrication”. And in February 2012 Takashi Kawamura, mayor of Nagoya, and Tokyo Governor Takashi Kawamura said the Rape of Nanjing “probably never happened”!

As always, reading a few articles while watching (and sometimes pausing) the film makes the experience incredibly deeper.

Some links:

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Filed under Philosophy & Religion, Politics

The Obstacle of Common Sense

Common sense is often our enemy.  Our intuitions often blind us.  Yes, I am aware of recent popular books pointing out the values of these unconscious heuristics in terms of their speed, and their uncanny accuracy, but intuition also has its dark side.  In this post I want to illustrate the dark side using three areas where common sense opinions can comfortably delude us: economics, language & religion.

Economics

Yesterday, “Overcoming Bias‘s Robin Hanson gave us Americans a badly needed taste of economic hopefulness.  Click on the graph below to see how the USA has significantly better ratings for firm management than most other countries.

Hanson’s article goes further with lots of other important economic facts.  Yes, I know, this sort of gives away some of my political leanings.  I know that politics and economics is very divisive and I absolutely don’t want a thread to develop on economics or politics.  But I do want to say that I feel a big problem with economics is that everyone has an opinion about it — and those opinions are largely based on intuitions.  And unfortunately, large scale economic systems are so complex, that common-sense intuitions are usually wrong.  In fact, Robin Hanson (a CMU professor of economics) has an earlier post (“Ignorance about Intuitions“)  discussing the complexity of intuition.

Robin Hanson

In that post, Hanson contrasts his image of beliefs with his intellectual boxing partner Byran Caplan.

We find ourselves managing complex networks of beliefs. Bryan’s picture seems to be of a long metal chain linked at only one end to a solid foundation; chains of reasoning mainly introduce errors, so we do best to find and hold close to our few most confident intuitions.  My picture is more like Quine‘s “fabric,” a large hammock made of string tied to hundreds of leaves of invisible trees; we can’t trust each leaf much, but even so we can stay aloft by connecting each piece of string to many others and continually checking for and repairing broken strings.

It was fun to read this paragraph because it is exactly how I envision my web of beliefs.  And it is for this reason that I have named my blog “Triangulations”.   Hanson does a good job showing his cautious use of intuition and hints at methodologies to check it.

On the blogs of both believer and non-believer we see people arguing positions based on their intuitions.  “Pooling of Ignorance” is one of our favorite habits.  It is, however, important to realize the limits of our intuitions — be you an Atheist, a Christian and any other opinionated person (ie., all of us).

You see, since people tend to deal with economic issues daily in their practical life, they also tend to have strong opinions about economics even thought they may have not studied the various differing views of economics.  “After all,” they may think, “I do it every day and I am successful.  How wrong can I be?”  But we can be surprisingly wrong about our opinions and still very successful or happy.  Similar to economics, language and religion are areas we form opinions because we have encountered and made decisions about them our whole lives.  Yet, could our common sense opinions be wrong?

Language

Steven Pinker shows how our intuitions about something as simple as language can be very wrong.  I love the following opening in Pinker’s book.  His paragraph ensnared me and then challenged me and I had to finish the book.

Most educated people already have opinions about language. They know that it is man’s most important cultural invention, the quintessential example of his capacity to use symbols, and a biologically unprecedented event irrevocably separating him from other animals.  They know that language pervades thought, with different languages causing their speakers to construe reality in different ways.  They know that children learn to talk from role models and caregivers.  They know that grammatical sophistication used to be nurtured in the schools, but sagging educational standards and the debasement of popular culture have led to frightening decline in the ability of the average person to construct a grammatical sentence.  …..

Steven Pinker

In the pages that follow, I will try to convince you that every one of these common opinions is wrong!

Steven Pinker (Cognitive Scientist: “The Language Instinct: How the mind creates Language“, 1994 , pg 17-18)

The rest of Pinker’s book does a superb job illustrating and arguing his points.  In my next post I will explore one of these false language intuitions.

Religion

Pascal Boyer opens his book with a similar observation about the obstacle common sense notions have set up for his research in religion.

What is the origin of religious ideas?  Why is it that we can find them wherever we go and it would seem, as far back in the past as we can see?  The best place to start is with our spontaneous, commonsense answers to the question of origins.  Everybody seems to have some intuition about the origins of religion.  Indeed, psychologists and anthropologists who like me study how mental processes create relion face the minor occupational hazard of constantly runn

ing into people who think that they already have a perfectly adequate solution to the problem.  They are often quite willing to impart their wisdom and sometimes imply that further work on this question is, if not altogether furtile, at least certainly undemanding.  If you say “I use genetic algorithms to produce computationally efficient cellular automata,” people se quite clearly that doing that kind of thing probably requires some effort.

Pascal Boyer

But tell them that you are in the business of “explaining religion,” they often do not see what is so complicated or difficult about it.  Most people have some idea of why there is religion, what religion gives people, why they are sometimes so strongly attached to their religious beliefs, and so on.  These common intuitions offer a real Chanllenge.  Obviously, if they are sufficient, there is no point in having a complex theory of religion.  If as I am afraid is more likely, they are less than perfect, then our new account should be at least as good as the intuitions it is supposed to replace.

Most accounts of the origins of religion emphasize one of the following suggestions:  human minds demand explanations, human hearts seek comfort, human society requires order, human intellect is illusion-prone. …  Discussing each of the common intuitions in more  detail, we will see that they all fail to tell us why we have religion and why it is it the way it is.

Pascal Boyer (Anthropologist: “Religion Explained: The evolutionary origins of religious thought“,  2001,  pg 4-5)

I thought putting these three examples together would make an interesting illustration of how our everyday experiences trick us into intuitions that may be inaccurate and stubborn. Today I briefly touched on economics, religion and language but there are many other areas like sex, politics and self to mention a few.  My experience has been that none of us are exempt from the hypnotic voice of intuition.  I will end with this quote:

Richard Feynman

“The first principle is that you must not fool yourself–and you are the easiest person to fool.”

Richard Feynman (Physicist, Caltech commencement address, 1974)

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Questions for readers:

  • Have you ever altered one of your common sense intuitions?
  • What common sense intuition of other people (besides religion) is an obstacle for you?

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Filed under Critical Thinking, Philosophy & Religion, Politics

Muslims Plea for Understanding

the_koranOn a liberal Christian site (one I like reading occassionally) I saw this letter posted pleading for an end to torture.  Indeed, a wonderful plea.  Obviously it was also trying to help non-Muslims see that there are Muslims who are thoughtful and kind (which I am sure of already, as I know many).  All fine and good until they quote examples of Muhammad to show us why Islam does not believe in Torture.  Come on, please tell us we don’t look that stupid !  Here is my reply:

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I agree that torture is wrong. But how am I to trust Muslims who cite Muhammad (no letters needed) for authority when it was Muhammad who wrote the quotes below. Shouldn’t you Muslims first show us that you want a total reformation of Islam, starting with the Koran !

1. Those who consider the Quran to be “mere fables” will be branded on the nose. 68:15-16

2. Be stern with disbelievers. They are going to Hell anyway. 66:9

3. Those that the Muslims killed were not really killed by them. It was Allah who did the killing. 8:17

4. Muslims that make friends with disbelievers will face a doom prepared for them by Allah. 5:80

5. Cut off the hands of thieves. It is an exemplary punishment from Allah. 5:38

6. If the unbelievers do not offer you peace, kill them wherever you find them. Against such you are given clear warrant. 4:91

7. If you die fighting for Allah, you’ll be rewarded in heaven. 3:157

And many, many more such verses – look here !
Please help me understand! You sound sincere, but you see the incongruency, don’t you?

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Filed under Events, Politics

Swine Flu – Govt. Action ! Hmmmm

Caution: This is a politically incorrect video for you most of you Atheists !

Congressman Ron Paul (former medical doctor) says:
1) Bigger Government usually makes things worse.
2) Vaccines need to be view judiciously.
Ah, but he is just a crazy libertarian.  We can all go back to sleep.

Other ways of understanding the Swine Flu:

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Filed under Events, Political Philosophy, Politics

Help Texas pack their bags !

Vodpod videos no longer available.

more about “Help Texans pack their bags“, posted with vodpod

HILARIOUS !  — even if I disagree with the video’s politics.
For I agree with Ron Paul — leaving the “Union”  is legitimate. And just as this video forecasts, I think we could test the validity of Texas’ policies and culture but cutting them free.  I don’t think the outcome would be great, but it would be self-correcting at a faster rate, I believe.  I must admit, that my trust in this self-correction method is a faith issue, since I have no evidence — even Atheists have faith though they are loath to confess this (oooops, religion words [“faith”, “confess”], sorry, not).

I strongly believe in Federalism as the laboratory of ideas. But when the central government wants to stop Federalism, forming independent states is the best way to preserve that laboratory.  But could we encourage California to pack their bags too, please !!
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Thanks to SuperJesus for posting this — although it seems we disagree politically, we agree on humor and on speaking out !  Also, it now it is great to know about Funny or Die.

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An Atheist Dilemma

OK, I have a dilemma for some of you Atheists.

vietnamNews today:  In what religious freedom advocates regarded as a breakthrough in Vietnam, authorities granted rare permission to unregistered house church groups to hold a large, public Easter-related service here last night.

More than 15,000 people gathered at Tao Dan Stadium.

Leaders of the celebration and religious freedom advocates in Vietnam said the event was significant in that unregistered house churches were allowed to hold a large public celebration. They added that authorities must have felt enough pressure to consider the event less harmful than possible negative publicity from denying permission.

The Dilemma:  Which is stronger, your joy for the freedoms gaining ground in Vietnam, or your sadness for religion spreading in yet another nation?

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Filed under Philosophy & Religion, Political Philosophy, Politics

Non-Govt Solution to Pirates: Use a Letter of Marque

nopiratesObama is being tested with his decisions about Iraq, Afghanistan, Korea and now pirates.  Obama believes in Government as the grand solution-maker and will probably deal with pirates with the military (yes, yes, Bush was even worse).  But a non-government solution has been offered by several congressmen including Obama’s most realistic opponent in the Presidential Race, Ron Paul of Texas.  These congressman are proposing that letters of marque and reprisal be used to reduce piracy.

Piracy was a large problem in the beginning years of US history.  The constitution addresses it here:

[The Congress shall have power] To declare war, grant letters of marque and reprisal, and make rules concerning captures on land and water;
US Constitution, Article 1, Section 8, paragraph

“Marque” comes from the french work for “frontier”.  And thus, a letter of marque is issued by a nation to a mercenary to act on behalf of that nation and pass beyond the border (“marque”) of our nation for the purpose of retaliating against another nation for some wrong, such as a border incursion or seizure.  It was considered a retaliatory measure just short of a full declaration of war.

National security experts estimate that this week’s ship captain rescued by Navy SEALs cost tens of millions whereas granting letters of marque and reprisal–hiring bounty hunters–would be a lot cheaper than any organized U.S. military response.  Small, flexible teams to hunt the pirates using their own creativity and initiative would be in keeping with the constitution, a more efficient solution and a better use of your tax money.  Ron Paul is still working for us even if he is not the President — now, if only our President will listen.

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Joining Hands: Theists & Atheists

img00040-20090415-1705Again, as mentioned in my last post, I was disappointed by the cheap shots many Atheist blogs took at the Tea Party gatherings. It seems that a disproportionate number of blogging Atheists are democrats. I was disappointed at the recording of a few ranting tea party goers and posting them as if they represented all the Republicans who are rallying at these Tea Parties.

Yesterday I went to a local Tea Party rally on the courthouse steps in the city where I work and snapped some photos. The gathering was very civil, no extremism, and all seem very sincerely motivated. A large crowded patiently stood in the rain to listen to various speakers and to cheer them on. One speaker took a poll which showed the make-up of those attending the rally was about:
90% Republicans, 5% Libertarians, 3% Independents, 2% Democrats

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Party Time !

Happy Tax day for you Atheists who are proud of not having a god in your religious brain, but instead put government there. I know this will upset many of you politically-correct Skeptics, but I couldn’t stand all the Atheist sites taking cheap shots at the Tea Parties by posting bad-apple videos. Come-on, offer good arguments.  Not all us atheists are followers of the Pied Piper Obama.  True, the  Political Right is not the answer either — but I imagine libertarians will be at these Tea Parties too.  I will try and go and post my impressions tomorrow. In the meanwhile, I retaliate with this simple-minded but fun video going at emotional strings also — cheap, yes, but I agree with the underlying message.

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Immorality — Our Nation’s Greatest Problem

williams2My goodness, an atheist talking about morality — the nerve !  Actually, I will not do the talking, instead I am copying an April 2009 essay below by Walter Williams, economist at George Mason University.  Here he tells why he feels morality is our country’s biggest issue.  I agree.  But again, as I write here, the issue is not a atheist vs. theist issue.

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